What To Expect When You Are Expecting An EPA


“For some environmental problems that are truly localized, there is little argument against a state approach,” said Stavins. “However, for environmental problems that are interstate … and for a global commons problem, such as climate change, the federal government really should take the lead.” File photo by Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

We are thankful to the Harvard Gazette for this summary of Professor Stavins by Alvin Powell:

The Senate’s confirmation of former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has alarmed environmentalists.

In Oklahoma, Pruitt prided himself on fighting the agency he will now run, with his website describing him as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” He sued the agency to fight regulation and expressed doubt about the human causes of climate change, though he moderated those views in his confirmation hearings.

Robert Stavins is the Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government at the Harvard Kennedy School, director of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements, and a past member of the EPA’s Science Advisory Board. The Gazette asked him about the EPA’s future under Pruitt.

GAZETTE: Who is Scott Pruitt, and why are environmentalists so alarmed?

STAVINS: As the former attorney general of Oklahoma, he took the lead in numerous lawsuits against the Obama EPA, nearly all of which were essentially moves to roll back proposed or existing environmental regulations. This includes the lawsuit from 28 state attorneys general regarding the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. Although he seemed to moderate his views somewhat during his confirmation hearings, he has been a frequent voice of skepticism regarding the reality of climate change and the importance of addressing it.

GAZETTE: What do the lawsuits he was involved in tell us about Pruitt’s views on the agency?

STAVINS: They say that, number one, he has a strong belief that environmental regulation should be carried out at the state level, predominantly, not at the federal level. For some environmental problems, that’s a defensible position. However, it’s not a reasonable position in the case of CO2 and climate change because it’s a global commons problem. The other is that he has a high degree of concern about the cost of environmental regulations, which in and of itself is not a bad thing from my perspective, but it may mean that he will give much less attention to the benefits of environmental regulations.

GAZETTE: What have Pruitt and President Trump said about plans for the agency?

STAVINS: During the campaign, President Trump said quite a bit, including that he would eliminate the EPA. But there’s no reason to pay much attention to what Trump says, in my opinion, because — among other reasons — tomorrow he may deny he ever said it. Pruitt, understandably, has not said what his plans are, but given his record, the expressed views of the president, the White House staff — in particular, Stephen Bannon — Vice President [Mike] Pence, and the Republicans in the Congress, it is reasonable to anticipate significant attempts to roll back regulations, where feasible…

Read the whole interview here.

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